Thursday, December 03, 2009

Leadership Development: Action and Experiential Learning and Peer Coaching

Organizations searching for ways to maximize their Leadership Development programs and minimize the costs associated with these programs can consider Action and Experiential Learning and Peer Coaching as business focused methods.

Action Learning involves a group of people meeting to share knowledge with each other. Action Learning may take place either as a case study or as a current business situation that all group members contribute their expertise to resolve. Groups brought together for Action Learning will have various levels of experience, skills and knowledge.

Experiential Learning takes place when group members act on the proposals arising out of their Action Learning project. The group regularly meets to review the outcomes of these actions and will make any corrections necessary as they learn from the process.

These groups can function without a facilitator, however the experience will be enhanced by assigning a facilitator that can act as a group mentor. The group facilitator (mentor) should be a more experienced member of the organization that is skilled at ensuring that groups stay on track and can provide advice if appropriate.

This process has similarities to the Project Management process in which a Project Manager develops a detailed plan to accomplish a specific objective. The members of the group act as a team to accomplish a goal, make mid-course corrections when appropriate and conduct post mortems at the end of the project. The main difference between Project Management and Action Learning is the Action Learning group develops their plan as a group rather than carrying out the plan of a Project Leader.

Action Learning groups can also develop a Peer Coaching offshoot to provide important, though less tactical development opportunities. In Peer Coaching each participant acts as both a coach and a coachee. The participants in the group are thinking partners and provide support and knowledge to each other. It is a developmental activity based on observations. The relationships are based on trust, collaboration and accountability. A good overview of the Peer Coaching process can be found at:

Monday, October 19, 2009

For years I have had a kind of uneasy relationship with the word empowerment. When I heard management types state that they needed to “empower their people”, it brought to mind the concept of the balance of power. Was it arrogant of these leaders to think they had so much power over others that they could choose to empower them or not? It was the terminology they used when they described what this process of empowering others looked like that created the sense of alarm in me-it seemed to consist of not much more than granting very limited opportunities to make small decisions on their own. However, when I look at one of the definitions of empowerment in Wikipedia I am reminded that the word is not the problem; it is the misinterpretation that creates my unease.
“The process which enables one to gain power, authority and influence over others, institutions or society. Empowerment is probably the totality of the following or similar capabilities:-
Having decision-making power of one's own
Having access to information and resources for taking proper decision
Having a range of options from which you can make choices (not just yes/no, either/or.)
Ability to exercise assertiveness in collective decision making
Having positive thinking on the ability to make change
Ability to learn skills for improving one's personal or group power
Ability to change others’ perceptions by democratic means
Involving in the growth process and changes that is never ending and self-initiated
Increasing one's positive self-image and overcoming stigma
Increasing one's ability in discreet thinking to sort out right and wrong
In short, empowerment is the process that allows one to gain the knowledge, skill-sets and attitude needed to cope with the changing world and the circumstances in which one lives.”
Successful leaders understand this definition and create an environment that allows the members of the organization to develop the competencies/skills required to be empowered. The competencies required for personal resilience are the same competencies required for empowerment and aids in a positive and successful approach to change.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Are Successful Change Efforts Driven by Authority or by Learning?

Research shows that successful change efforts are driven both by authority (top down directive) and by learning (institutional, mentoring, workplace subject matter expert trainers, teamwork, collaboration, peer coaching, personal management competencies). Change efforts require commitment and presence from top leadership and a culture of learning throughout the organization.

Personal and organizational resilience are a key to retaining valued employees and maintaining productivity during significant change projects. Often change projects have negative results because resources are focused on technology and leadership development only. One size fits all resources may be provided for members of the organization as a whole, however, such tools rarely aid in developing critical personal management competencies for all members of the organization.

Wills (2008) states that increasing ones awareness of individual styles and how those styles impact the workplace environment helps individuals to understand how they respond to change. Being aware of the concept of locus of control and how individuals can change this aspect of their personal perspective contributes to the overall development of personal management competencies. Personal management competencies are core factors in personal resilience. Personal resilience and lifelong learning are basic requirements for success during significant change. Resilient individuals develop skills that are essential to cope successfully with problems when they arise. These skills are also effective workplace skills; for example, the ability to solve problems effectively and set realistic goals and expectations. The key attributes of resilient individuals are well-developed interpersonal skills and responsible participation in their community.

Davis and Davis (2000) found that, significant learning usually results in change in performance, capacity, or attitude. Change is the main product of learning and if we don’t want to change, we probably do not want to learn either. Bushe (2001) defined learning as the outcome of an inquiry that produces knowledge and leads to change. All three components (inquiry, knowledge, and change) have to be present for an episode of organizational learning to take place.

In the current economic environment training and development is subject to the same budget constraints as every other part of the organization. The leaders that are responsible for training and development (knowledge management) need to consider cost effective methods to achieve organizational goals. Mentoring programs can be designed to resolve gaps in the succession plan competency map. Peer coaching circles can be established, perhaps held in place of some of the team meetings to share subject matter expertise among team members. Intranets can be utilized to share internal learning and training resources related to specific internal processes or product manufacturing. Online resources are available to provide current information on almost any topic pertinent to the organizational goals and can partially replace conferences. Maintaining contact and sharing resources with experts in other organizations can be managed to a large degree electronically. The actions of the Human Resources and Training and Development professionals will likely need to move away from classroom style internal and external training and towards creative in-house programs that focus directly on driving organizational goals.


Bushe, G.R., (2001). Clear Leadership, How Outstanding Leaders Make Themselves Understood, Cut Through the Mush, and Help Everyone Get Real at Work. Davies-Black Publishing, Palo Alto, California

Davis, J.R., Davis, A.B., (2000). Managing Your Own Learning. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., San Francisco

Wills, K.I., (2008), Change and Resilience in Organizations. VDM Verlag Dr. Müller AG & Co. KG

Friday, October 02, 2009

It has been a very long time since I last posted to this blog. Life has been interesting and very full and the blog dropped off the radar. While I still have a strong interest in this topic, my thinking has evolved over the years through education, work experiences and life experiences. I intend to start posting again covering a broader range of topics.

It is true that the economy has contributed significantly to the continuous changes in the world of work, and the value of ongoing learning is still a key component to success in the workplace. Ongoing learning includes academic and on the job learning. The gaps that some organizations are experiencing in succession plans can be bridged with well structured mentoring programs that include traditional experienced mentor to mentee and peer coaching teams. Mentor programs are simple to organize and inexpensive to run.